Grain Bulk Handlers Association launches petition calling on CBH to reinstate harvest rebates

Olivia FordCountryman
A grain delivery pours through the grid at the Calingiri CBH bin.
Camera IconA grain delivery pours through the grid at the Calingiri CBH bin. Credit: Danella Bevis

A grain grower lobby group has begun a petition calling for CBH to bring back rebates for growers who sell through the State’s main grain handler.

At its inaugural meeting in Narembeen, the newly formed Grain Bulk Handlers Association released a petition to be presented to CBH calling for the reinstatement of rebate payments, where surplus funds from harvests are returned to growers.

The petition also called for ensuring CBH staff incentives reward higher farm-gate returns, as well as the removal of a self-imposed limit of offering a price for no higher than 50 per cent of the harvest.

GBHA executive director James Ferguson said he hoped the petition would make CBH back pedal on its 2022 decision to withhold rebates, a choice that sparked the creation of GBHA.

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“We’re trying to use the strength of numbers to convince the (CBH) board that we need to be thinking about these things,” he said.

“While many of us respect and are proud of CBH, we think it is very important that it sticks to the principles that actually made the organisation what it is.”

CBH started foregoing rebates and opted instead to invest surplus funds into its supply chain infrastructure to help boost its capacity after record-breaking harvests.

Grain Bulk Handlers Association deputy chairman Bob Iffla.
Camera IconGrain Bulk Handlers Association deputy chairman Bob Iffla. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

“The major concern is that the (CBH) board seems to have opted to move away from the co-operative principle that trading profits ought to be rebated to the growers who actually contributed to that profit,” Mr Ferguson said.

GBHA chairman Bill Cowan said putting the surplus funds into infrastructure was “not fair” on those selling through CBH.

“Other people are getting a free ride on the infrastructure that only people who have traded through CBH have contributed to,” he said.

GBHA deputy chairman Bob Iffla said it was not just rebates the group were focusing on, and mentioned other ways CBH could increase returns to growers, including providing different contracts that ensured growers “got more than the minimum price”.

“CBH needs to make sure they can maximise their returns to growers back at the farm gate,” he said.

“That’s what they really got to do, but we feel like that’s not what they’re not doing.”

WAFarmers grains council president Mark Fowler said while WAFarmers have not yet formed a stance on grower rebates this year, he believed CBH’s reasoning for not offering rebates this year is generally consistent with the logic applied last year when the WAFarmers position on the issue was determined at its annual general meeting.

“However, at the time we were very clear with CBH that we did not agree that they should deliberately use Marketing and Trading to raise money to fund the network as that would incentivise them to offer lower prices and we want M&T to offer growers the very best prices that they can,” he said.

“Another factor at play here is that the first-in-first-served system that CBH used to ration their grain contracts last year, which were $20-$30 better than other traders, created a lot of unhappiness because a lot of growers missed out.

“If CBH were to pay a rebate to the growers who were lucky enough to get those contracts, it would amplify that sense of unfairness.”

WAFarmers WA grain president Mark Fowler.
Camera IconWAFarmers WA grain president Mark Fowler. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman

Mr Fowler also said funding the infrastructure network was critical to growers.

He referred to the record harvests in 2021 and 2022 which caused a “supply chain emergency” as a result of inadequate infrastructure to export the crop within the out-turn year.

“While the pressure’s come off this season, we’re still only one harvest away from having a supply chain crisis again,” he said.

“The greatest return on investment that most growers could see was the investment in the network, so they would not ever again be subjected to such big elevator margins.”

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